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For Colored Boys Who Considered Blond/When The Rainbow Wasn’t Enuf: A Review of Frank Ocean’s “Blonde”




By I. Augustus Durham |@imeanswhatisays |With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)



Friday, October 7, 2016.




It was on the heels of the 40th anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow was enuf that I first heard Frank Ocean’s blonde. Actually, that is a lie: I first heard it in August at my cousins’ Philadelphia loft, while we conversed about our children and the education system, and whether Kanye West had four consecutively good albums. (We agreed yes.) Nonetheless, the difficulty in reviewing Ocean’s second album, the second offering usually being the awkward project in one’s discography, is precisely because I do not know what to say.


At first, I thought about reading the album as a weekend: “Nikes”, “Ivy”, and “Pink+White” as the Friday and Saturday errands and festivities and interpersonal encounters you attend to before getting up for church on Sunday—the call to worship (“Be Yourself”); the choir processional on a churchified organ (“Solo”); the morning prayer (“Skyline To”); the first selection (Self Control); offering (“Good Guy”); the sermonic selection (“Nights”); the sermon by the pastor-elect, Rev. Andre 3000 (“Solo [Reprise]”); the call to discipleship (“Pretty Sweet”); the testimony and altar call (“Facebook Story”, “Close to You”); the church announcements (“White Ferrari”, “Seigfried”); and the benediction (“Godspeed”). “Futura Free” becomes the after-church meal with friends to contemplate the bittersweet reality of a new week, hoping this one is better than the last or remembering that Monday is a holiday. This review seemed facile.


Then, based solely on the contingency of when I listened to blonde for comprehension, I thought about correlating the album to the saga of New York Fashion Week vis-à-vis Marc Jacobs and the politics of hair. In some ways, his comment about not criticizing “women of color for straightening their hair” has a subtext, I opine, that runs in line with the rhetoric of one bell hooks while a resident at the New School, both aesthetics having albeit different “desires”. I started pondering what it means for a black man with black hair to color his hair a “dominant” hue for capitalist consumption as self-promotion. This is with a full understanding that my own hair, not necessarily regarding coloring but rather styling, has allowed me to be a jack of all follicular trades. Likewise, it is not as if black men with blonde hair is novel (excuse the problematic website name considering this paragraph and the next). This seemed petty.


But the blond hair-dominance piece sat with me because in proximity to my listening, Tyre King was killed running from the police in Ohio (maybe “we” shouldn’t live there—anywhere?!) and then, within days, Terence Crutcher was killed in Oklahoma because the police were too busy coding him as a “bad dude” instead of trying to assess the “real” “situation” for which they were initially called. I began thinking: what if the album, especially with its lyrics “R-I-P Trayvon/That nigga look just like me”, interrogates whether an alternative coding as “blond(e)” could signal the difference between life and death in that these two bodies, among countless others—trans* and cisgender, female and male, compliant and compliant—are now dead because of their black “hair”? This seemed “essentialist”: though it appears that the police, like gentlemen, prefer blondes, this is my second straight post written for this platform related to an unconscionable death at the hands of “judicial” actors, the one prior regarding a “black” white man. Which is to say, the abolition of the police is increasingly that which shall not be named but hurriedly needs to be uttered, and confirms why Colin Kaepernick, and others, should ride this protest ‘til his knees fall off. I first thought I would name this piece:


for colored boys who considered blonde/when the black was enuf (to be killed)


What then shall I say about such melancholy things as these? If Frank is for us, who can ever be against us? That blond(e)s have more fun? That blond(e) is bond, and black must git back? And then I caught it:


For those who know what the “I” stands for under my pen name, they likely also know that the letters following that perpendicular pronoun are often misspelled. From as early as I can remember (and I have photos to prove it!), this was my mistaken destiny as identity. That is why I could not help but be perplexed as to why Spotify has the album name, right in front of it, but chooses to misspell its title and typesetting. I wondered: maybe what the album means is nothing? If you are not willing to spell me how I spell me, how I conjure me, is capitalist consumption subverted insofar as how could anyone ever really consume the “me” projected as a lie? Blonde is and is not the album title, just like placing the “e” before the “a” in my name does not mean you mispronounce it, but that you have not been paying attention when I spelled it out. This also brings to mind Nathaniel Mackey: a new word, a new world—he literally takes the “l” for the win! Queering language is now on the table.


I am careful in suggesting that blond is queer in its affect, surmising why such a designation is boring, even while Frank wants to “be the boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight”. The lingering sentiment, however, is, as per Jonathan Jacob Moore’s poem and interview, whether you, Frank, “hate coming outside, sometimes, too”? To come outside—as Toni Morrison would state, to be “outdoors . . . the real terror of life”—is to encounter the facile, the petty, the essential. And as it concerns the environment, the sun can change the color of one’s hair. Therefore, one finds god in himself and he loves it/he loves it fearfully, inside, because the rainbow wasnt, and isnt, enuf to keep the head intact. Interiority allows one to willingly settle for a piece of sky as he generates in peace.


Perhaps the album should be called 'Green'.

***


I. Augustus Durham is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in English at Duke University. His work focuses on blackness, melancholy and genius.

For Colored Boys Who Considered Blond/When The Rainbow Wasn’t Enuf: A Review of Frank Ocean’s Blonde

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